Ven. Dr. Walpola Rahula
In the Yogacara (Vijnanavada) School of Buddhism,
alaya Vijnana is one of the most important doctrines developed by Asanga (fourth
century C.E.). He divides the Vijnana skandha (Aggregate of Consciousness) the
fifth of the five skandhas, into three different aspects or layers, namely, citta,
manas and Vijnana. In the Theravada Tipitaka as well as in the Pali Commentaries,
these three terms - citta, manas, Vijnana - are considered as synonyms denoting
the same thing. The Sarvistivada also takes them as synonyms. Even the Lankavatara
Sutra, which is purely a Mahayana text, calls them synonyms although their separate
functions are mentioned elsewhere in the same sutra. Vasubandhu, too, in his Vimsatikavijnapti-matratasiddhi
considers them as synonyms. Since any one of these three terms - citta, manas,
Vijnanas - represents some aspect, even though not all aspects, of the fifth Aggregate
Vijnana skandha, they may roughly be considered as synonyms.
However, for Asanga,
citta, manas and Vijnana are three different and distinct aspects of the Vijnana
skandha. He defines this Aggregate as follows:
'What is the definition of the
Aggregate of Consciousness (Vijnana skandha)? It is mind (citta), mental organ
(manas) and also consciousness (Vijnana).
"And there what is mind (citta)?
It is alaya Vijnana (Store-Consciousness) containing all seeds (sarvabijaka),
impregnated with the traces (impressions) (vasanaparibhavita) of Aggregates (skandha),
Elements (dhatu) and Spheres (ayatana)...
'What is mental organ (manas)? It
is the object of alaya Vijnana always having the nature of self-notion (self-conceit)
(manyanatmaka) associated with four defilements, viz. the false idea of self (atmadrsti),
self-love (atmasneha), the conceit of 'I am' (asmimana) and ignorance (avidya)...
is consciousness (Vijnana)? It consists of the six groups of consciousness (sad
vijnanakayah), viz. visual consciousness (caksurvijnana), auditory (srotra), olfactory
(ghrana), gustatory (jihva), tactile (kaya), and mental consciousness (mano Vijnana)...
we can see that vijnana represents the simple reaction or response of the sense
organs when they come in contact with external objects. This is the uppermost
or superficial aspect or layer of the Vijnana skandha. Manas represent the aspect
of its mental functioning, thinking, reasoning, conceiving ideas, etc. Citta,
which is here called alaya Vijnana, represents the deepest, finest and subtlest
aspect or layer of the Aggregate of Consciousness. It contains all the traces
or impressions of the past actions and all good and bad future potentialities.
The Sandhinirmocana-Sutra also says that alaya Vijnana is called citta (Tibetan
It is generally believed that alaya Vijnana is purely a Mahayana doctrine
and that nothing about it is found in Hinayana. But in the Mahayanasangraha, Asanga
himself says that in the Sravaka-yana (equals Hinayana) it is mentioned by synonyms
(paryaya) and refers to a passage in the Ekottaragama which reads: 'People (praja)
like the alaya (alayarata), are fond of the alaya (alayarama), are delighted in
the alaya (alayasammudita), are attached to the alaya (alayabhirata). When the
Dharma is preached for the destruction of the alaya, they wish to listen (susrusanti)
and lend their ears (srotram avadadhanti), they put forth a will for the perfect
knowledge (ajnacittam upasthapayanti) and follow the path of Truth (dharmanudharma-pratipanna).
When the Tathagata appears in the world (pradurbhava), this marvelous (ascarya)
and extraordinary (adbhuta) Dharma appears in the world.'
this Ekottaragama passage with the following passage in the Pali Anguttaranikaya
(A II, p.131): Alayarama bhikkhave paja alayarata alayasammudita, sa Tathagatena
analaye dhamme desiyamane sussuyati sotam odahati annacittam upattapeti. Tathagatassa
bhikkhave arahato sammasambuddhassa patubhava ayam pathamo acchariyo abbhuto dhammo
Besides this Anguttara passage, the term alaya in the same sense
is found in several other places of the Pali Canon. The Pali Commentaries explain
this term as 'attachment to the five sense-pleasures", and do not go deeper
than that. But this also is an aspect of the alaya Vijnana.
In the Lankavatara
Sutra the term Tathagata-garbha is used as a synonym for alaya Vijnana and is
described as 'luminous by nature' (prakrtiprabhasvara) and 'pure by nature' (prakrtiparisuddha)
but appearing as impure 'because it is sullied by adventitious defilements' (agantuklesopaklistataya).
In the Anguttaranikaya, citta is described as 'luminous' (pabhassara), but it
is 'sullied by adventitious minor defilements' (agantukehi upakkilesehi upakkilittham).
One may notice here that alaya-Vijnana (or Tathágata garbha) and citta
are described almost by the same terms. We have seen earlier that the Sandhi-nirmocana-sutra
says that alaya Vijnana is also called citta. Asanga too mentions that it is named
It is this alaya Vijnana or citta that is considered by men as their
"Soul', 'Self', 'Ego' or 'Atman'. It should be remembered as a concrete example,
that Sati, one of the Buddha's disciples, took vinnan (vijnana) in this sense
and that the Buddha reprimanded him for this wrong view.
The attainment of
Nirvana is achieved by 'the revolution of alaya Vijnana' which is called asrayaparavrtti.
The same idea is conveyed by the expression alayasamugghata - 'uprooting of alaya'
- which is used in the Pali Canon as a synonym for Nirvana. Here it should be
remembered, too, that analaya, 'no-alaya', is another synonym for Nirvana.
alayavijnanaparavrtti is sometimes called bijaparavrtti - 'revolution of the seeds'
- as well. Bija here signifies the 'seeds' of defilements (samklesikadharmabija),
which cause the continuity of samsara. By the 'revolution of these seeds' one
attains Nirvana. Again the Pali term khinabija, which is used to denote an arahant
whose seeds of defilements are destroyed', expresses the same idea.
may see that, although not developed as in the Mahayana, the original idea of
alaya Vijnana was already there in the Pali Canon of the Theravada.